How Luar’s Raul Lopez Ascended From the Garment District to the Heavens
Raul Lopez has worked long and hard in service of the look. Even as a kid growing up in Brooklyn, the designer would create custom outfits before school, with the help of an expansive cast of matriarchs based in the Garment District. The clothes were deliberately unlike anything anyone sold in stores, let alone wanted. His knack for gliding between emo and the club, between thigh-high Timbs and braided mohawks, became more focused in Lopez’s role as a cofounder of the groundbreaking brand Hood By Air. However, it wasn’t until his friend and creative partner Shayne Oliver sat him down and told him he needed to “embrace his inner cha-cha” that Lopez’s label Luar became a fully realized (and CFDA-nominated) ready-to-wear brand. Luar is Raul spelled backward, and it is part of Lopez’s larger habit of turning things on their head. Sometimes business casual, sometimes trap goddess, and sometimes gala-ready, often all in one look, his designs are aggressively everything. It only makes sense, then, that his Spring/Summer 2019 collection is inspired by the seven terraces of Dante Alighieri’s Purgatorio.
Terrace I: The Proud
“Anna Wintour came to my apartment in Williamsburg today. She showed up an hour early and cut right to the chase by asking me what my inspiration was for the season. I told her that I’m inspired by Dante’s Purgatorio [part two of the Italian poet’s Divine Comedy], because we’re all living in purgatory right now. I work in the Garment District, which is the purgatory of Manhattan. That’s where my mother used to work for a milliner, and where all the women on her side worked when they immigrated from the Dominican Republic. Those are the women who taught me how to sew when I was a kid.”
Terrace II: The Envious
“I remember Shayne once told me, ‘Girl, we have to look fab all the time. One, we’re minorities. Two, we’re gay. And three, we look nuts. So we should always have a clean face, a fresh cut, and a fresh fit, because then they can never come for us.’ I remember the first outfit I wore that was full-on gay. I changed into it on the platform of the West 4th Street subway station and walked over to Christopher Street looking fab. It was a boot-cut Diesel jean, a jacket with the same nasty wash, an L.V. Speedy bag, and a mohawk with braids. I would walk by, and all the gays would be looking at me, and I’d hit them with my hair. Bitch, you could tell me nothing.”
Terrace III: The Wrathful
“Back when we were getting started with Hood by Air, Shayne and I used to put on our looks and go to my best friend Berly’s house before we went out. She would be like, ‘You look fucking dumb, bitch.’ Berly’s a super-regular Dominican girl, so if she read us to filth, we knew the look was iconic. If the Berly Syndrome is not happening with what you do, you know you’re not doing something good. It was the same with Hood By Air. Buyers would say, ‘Nobody wants this, it’s too artsy,’ and that’s when we’re like, ‘This is it.’”
Terrace IV: The Slothful
“I have corners in the Garment District where I like to stand and look at people while I’m designing. One of my favorites is 35th and Eighth, which is where all the heroin addicts hang out. It just gives me that real pre-Giuliani vibe. They’re so on trend. You got the squatters with the duct-tape shoes and the dog and their t-shirt falling apart, mixing with the hood boys who got the baggy jeans and that oversize t-shirt aesthetic like it’s 2005 and they’re in Dipset. And they always got mad layers on, even if it’s 100 degrees. If you can handle that, I live for you, honey.”
Terrace V: The Covetous
“The moment I started focusing on women’s wear, Shayne sat me down and was like, ‘You come from hanging out with all these Spanish girls, and you need to start embodying that. Embrace your inner cha-cha.’ The women who inspire me are boss bitches. My mom always said that the man is the head of the house, but the woman is the neck. The neck moves the head wherever it wants. Outfit, done. Lipo, done. Whatever you want, done.”
Terrace VI: The Gluttonous
“My other favorite corner is 39th and Eighth. That’s where [the discount clothing store] Rainbow is, so you got all the hood girls and corporate girls mixing. Rainbow is the low-key birth of the look, because if something has made it all the way there three seasons later, that means the normals didn’t want it and it’s a fab piece. I’ve always been about the sale rack, and not because of money, but because that’s where I knew I could find what everyone else hates.”
Terrace VII: The Lustful
“I thought a lot about the Renaissance when making my new collection, because I feel like we’re living in the Thot-aissance era. If contouring has taught us anything, it’s that the future is drag. Not trans, not men in drag, but full-on women dressing like drag queens. That’s why you now see women at DragCon learning how to do their makeup. There has never been a country more fluid than the Dominican Republic, so I see it when I’m there. One of my friends there, a cis woman, makes her money doing drag. And her man, a cis man, he’s a drag queen, too! The Dominican Republic is the future, and drag is the next step.”
Hair: Shingo Shibata at The Wall Group.
Makeup: Yuki Hayashi using Mac Cosmetics at Streeters.
Production: Leonel Becerra.
Photography Assistants: Maria Post and Daren Thomas.
Hair Assistant: Yama.
Makeup Assistants: Anoli and Jennifer Green.
Manicure: Naomi Yasuda at Management+Artists.
Production Assistant:Ryan Li.
Special Thanks: Luar Showroom.